November 7 this year marks the 90th anniversary of the October Revolution, which marked a new historical stage in annals of humankind. For the first time in history the workers and peasants got the chance to control their country for an extensive historical period. The means of production, natural resources and land, much of which had belonged to landowners or to local and international capitalists, were all placed at the disposal of all citizens, to be used for their welfare.
Due to the October Revolution, led by Vladimir Illich Lenin, Russia – one of the most backward countries in Europe, which had also suffered great damage from the First World War and the Civil War which followed it -became within a brief historical period a power which gained world-notable achievements in agriculture, industry, science and culture.
Socialism extracted Russia, within a relatively short period, from the claws of capitalism and semi-feudalism. Socialism in the Soviet Union eliminated class exploitation, the exploitation of one person by another, ended illiteracy (which had been at the 75% mark before the revolution) raised members of all nationalities to a high cultural level. Socialism eliminated unemployment, cyclical economic crises and social insecurity.
The Soviet Union made a decisive contribution to the victory over Nazism in the Second World War, and thus saved the whole of humanity. It made a decisive contribution to preserving world peace through all the years of its existence. The Soviet Union gave enormous momentum to the struggle of the peoples for liberation from Colonialism (and later, also from Neo-Colonialism), and provided tremendous help to the developing countries in Africa, Asia and the rest of the world. This is contrast to the Western countries which acted (and continue to act) solely with the aim of economic control of such countries and exploiting their natural resources.
The Soviet Union assisted the national liberation movements and countries, which suffered imperialist aggression, and manifested its solidarity with all forces fighting against occupation and for social progress and socialism. The social achievements made within its boundaries, including the provision of free education and health services, and the provision of other basic needs at token prices, were a challenge to the developed capitalist states, and made it possible for workers in these states to gain many social achievements.
Nevertheless, the first attempt ever made in history to construct a Socialist regime in such a big and complicated country, and against the background of such a bitter international confrontation with the capitalist powers, was also accompanied by mistakes, setbacks and deformations. Some of the mistakes were corrected in the course of continuing activity, after the lessons had been learned and appropriates steps were taken to solve the problems, which appeared. But some of the mistakes which had been corrected re-appeared in later periods.
In different periods administrative methods developed which harmed the Socialist democracy. Methods which were appropriate at certain times and under certain international conditions (for example, during the Civil War or towards and during the Second World War) were not changed to the necessary degree when new conditions and a new international situation developed.
Among other weaknesses there was also an ideological weakness and dereliction of the ideological Marxist-Leninist education. This included a mistaken assumption: that the very existence of the Socialist regime in the Soviet Union, over so many years, and its many achievements, have in themselves ensured its continued existence; that the situation was created where under no circumstances could there appear inside the Soviet Union elements which would threaten the very existence of the Socialist regime – let alone topple it.
In dealing with the challenge of the scientific-technical revolution which occurred since the 1960s, the Soviet Union at first had impressive achievements – for example in the field of outer space exploration. Later, however, a gap opened between the Soviets and the most developed capitalist countries. During the second half of the 1970s and the 1980s there was a decline in economic growth. There was an increasing phenomenon of increasing the quantity of products produced at the expense of quality, and there were not enough incentives offered to the workers and the factories in order to increase productivity and the quality of the products. From time to time there was some talk about these and other weaknesses, which became prominent at this time, and steps for improving them were outlined – but in practice there were not taken sufficient measures to correct these weaknesses.
This was the background for emergence, starting in the middle 1980s, of the Perestroika, whose declared aims were to improve Socialism, to achieve openness, to accelerate economic development and to buttress the Soviet alliance. And indeed, it started to have positive initial results. In the continuation, however, new mistakes and errors were made, which further exacerbated the situation in the Soviet Union and created a danger to the very existence of the Socialist regime as well as of the Soviet Union. Instead of a campaign to reform and strengthen Socialism, there were increasing forces acting to liquidate the Socialist regime and dismantle the Soviet state. There developed a sharp confrontation between on the one hand the forces which sought to preserve the Socialist regime, while sincerely dealing with the problems which arose and correcting them within a Socialist framework – and on the other hand the forces which worked towards the liquidation of Socialism, first secretly and later openly. The forces supporting the liquidation of the Socialist regime enjoyed, since nearly the very beginning of Perestroika, a total control over the overwhelming majority of the communications media in the Soviet Union.
Finally, the Socialist regime was broken up, the Soviet Union dismantled, and the Socialist system in Eastern Europe collapsed.
The dismantling of the Soviet Union and the overthrow of the Socialist regimes in East Europe caused the overturning of the balance in the international arena. The United States and its allies embarked on an aggressive policy in order to impose their dictates on nations and peoples, nor did they scruple to start wars against countries which dared to stand up to them and to set off bloody internal wars in other countries. Also, there started an all-out offensive against the achievements of workers in the developed industrialized countries, and many achievements of the Welfare State – achieved against the background of competition by the Soviet Union – were (and continue to be) abolished one by one. The gap between rich and poor countries, especially in Asia and Africa, is wider than ever. The concentration of capital in the hand of an ever-smaller number of billionaires and multi-national companies is on the increase.
In the former Socialist countries, the great majority of the population suffers a steep decline in their standard of living. Many have literally paid with their lives for the changed situation. Life expectancy in Russia has gone down significantly since the early 1990s. Many suffer abject poverty, lack the most basic of consumer articles as well as being prey to various diseases and plagues. On the background of the terrible hardship which developed after the liquidation of the Socialist regimes millions of women from the former Soviet Republics and the East European countries were forced to sell their bodies, and they became the focus of a new kind of slavery in the international sex industry. The resources of the Soviet state, fruit of the labor of many generations, were robbed by a handful of oligarchs who became billionaires – while the overwhelming majority of the population fell into abject poverty.
It is no accident that in such a situation there is in recent years in Russia (and in other countries) an increasing appreciation of the social (and other) achievements gained during the Socialist regime. It is no accident that nowadays even the government of Russia defines the dismantling of the Soviet Union as the greatest disaster which happened to Russia and to the entire world in the past century. Still, despite some positive changes during the term of Putin (as compared with the time of Yelchin), still Russia and the overwhelming part of its resources are in the hands of a handful of oligarchs, and most of the population remains in an extremely difficult situation.
Despite the difficulties and setbacks, the struggles for changing the harsh reality do not stop, neither in Russia and Eastern Europe, nor in the Western side of the continent and the rest of the world. In recent years there were mass protests against capitalist globalization and against the heads of the Western powers which lead that globalization. In South America left-wing presidents and governments achieved power in a whole series of countries. The most prominent changes took place at Venezuela and Bolivia, but these countries were far from the only ones. Communist parties continue to be active in nearly all countries of the world, and some of them – including in our region – have recently made important electoral gains.
There can be no real solution to the problems facing humanity – security, socio-economic and environmental – except by overthrowing the regime which caused them, the capitalist regime, and replacing it with a socialist one; the awareness that this is so is gaining an increasing number of adherents. The struggle for fundamental changes in the new local and global reality will be very long and difficult, but it will not end until a different and better future is ensured for humankind.